President Obama announces free community college plan

Five years after his visit to Hudson Valley, President Obama is proposing a program to give all Americans two free years of community college.

Five years after his visit to Hudson Valley, President Obama is proposing a program to give all Americans two free years of community college.
























Pat Gareau


President Obama visited Hudson Valley to give a speech in Sept. 2009. During his speech, he said that the most underappreciated part of the education system is “community colleges like Hudson Valley, which are so essential to the future of our young people.”

A little over five years later, he is proposing a plan to provide more affordable access to community colleges. In fact, his proposal is for tuition to be free for all Americans at schools like Hudson Valley.

“Today, in a 21st-century economy where your most valuable asset is your knowledge, the single most important way to get ahead is to get not just a high school education, but a higher education,” said Obama in his Jan. 8 speech to promote his proposal.

“Every American, whether they are young or just young at heart, should be able to earn the skills and education necessary to compete and win in the 21st century economy,” he said.

In order to qualify for free tuition, the student would have to maintain a 2.5 GPA and be enrolled at least half-time at a college that has programs that are either fully transferable to four-year schools or are proven to give graduates good job prospects.

Supporters of the proposal, such as the American Association for Community Colleges, have applauded the initiative and its promise to expand access to two-year schools.

However, the plan has not been received well by everyone. Despite being modeled on a program already in place in Tennessee that was created by a Republican government, the program has been criticized by the leaders in the newly Republican controlled Congress.

Republicans such as House Speaker John Boehner have cited the cost of the program as a primary concern. The program will cost the federal government an estimated $60 billion over ten years. Under the current proposal, the federal government would pay for 75 percent of the average tuition for qualifying students, while states would have to pay the other 25 percent in order to participate.

Other criticisms pointed out by editorials, such as in Forbes and Washington Post, are that the plan may not address the rising cost of college and that low-income students can already have their entire tuition covered by the Federal Pell Grant. The maximum Pell Grant is $5,645 and the average tuition at community colleges is $3,260.

Americans with an associate’s degree earn about $125 more per week than those with no education past high school, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

During his six years in office, Obama has introduced several reforms to make college more affordable, including Federal Direct loans and increases in Pell grants.

If the plan passes, about nine million people would save nearly $4,000 each year, according to White House estimates. President Obama is expected to speak about the plan in tonight’s State of the Union address.


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